Wide, Open Spaces

Wide, Open Spaces

Secret season in Jackson County, North Carolina

Words by Ashley Locke

When was the last time that you had a quiet moment to yourself? With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be difficult to find a moment of peace—but you can always find one during Secret Season in Jackson County.

The Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountain Range, shrouds western North Carolina in a beautiful blue haze. The shades of blue surround the towns of Jackson County—Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, Sylva, Balsam, Cullowhee, Glenville and Sapphire—giving visitors a front row seat to scenic, dream-like views. 

There is no bad time to visit, but the crisp, clean mountain air feels different during the secret season. The crowds begin to thin as the temperature drops in January, but those who do visit during the winter and early spring seasons get what feels like a private Blue Ridge getaway. The crowds begin to trickle back by the end of March, but for those three special months, Jackson County transforms into a personal, peaceful escape.

There are endless perks to traveling during Secret Season. Lodging specials make the stay affordable, and the options range from cozy bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels to peaceful cabin rentals. The lack of crowds means there’s no wait to enjoy the area’s award-winning restaurants such as Ilda, where you can enjoy Italian cuisine featuring Southern Appalachian ingredients from local farms. After a delicious meal, take some time to explore the shops. Discover handmade horsehair pottery, hand carved wooden bowls and spoons, hand-stitched quilts, and hand-woven baskets—mementos that bring a piece of Jackson County home with you.

Though there’s a lot to do indoors in each town, it’s impossible to stay inside all day. One deep breath in the cool, crisp air and you’ll feel enticed to spend more time outside. Jackson County’s mild winters encourage it. No wild winter storms here—just serene frost-tipped mountains and trees dusted with snow. 

The natural beauty of the area is breathtaking. There are more than a dozen waterfall hikes to choose from, but the flowing water freezes over in the winter. The stillness of the once-roaring water is magical—almost meditative. Choose your destination based on how long of a hike you’d like—some require a short stroll, and others are more of a trek. Silver Run Falls and Whitewater Falls are two that are particularly beautiful during the secret season, frozen in time until the warmer temperatures return.

On sunny days, as the sun sinks behind Whiteside Mountain, a spectacular vision is cast right before your eyes. Known as the Shadow of the Bear, this trick of the light is visible from mid-February through early March. Head out to Rhodes Big View Overlook at 5:30pm to watch the Shadow of the Bear appear, then catch a watercolor sunset right after. You don’t have to bring a camera, but it’s probably a memory you’ll want to keep!

Each day spent in Jackson County opens the door to new adventures. Beer enthusiasts can spend the afternoon following the Ale Trail—a map of local breweries that serve unique pints. Hit the slopes at Sapphire Valley Ski Resort, where you can ski down the mountains or visit the tube park. Experience fly fishing during prime season—the fishermen are few and far between, but the fish are plentiful. There’s excitement in the air everywhere your feet touch, from the tops of the mountains to the water down below.

The Blue Ridge Mountains offer some of the most scenic views in the country, and Jackson County is the ideal place to enjoy them. You don’t need to be an outdoorsman to appreciate the surrounding natural beauty—the mountains are a stunning backdrop to all there is to do. Secret Season is Jackson County’s best kept… but now that you’re in on it, you can plan your trip at www.discoverjacksonnc.com.